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There will be blood

In the Rivals for Life blood drive, Stanford and Cal face off to see who can donate more pints.

- By Sara Wykes

Stanford students participated in the 2015 Rivals for Life. On Nov. 15, the annual blood drive will again pit Stanford against Cal in the contest to see which university can donate the most blood in a day.
Norbert von der Groeben

More than football will be at stake during Big Game Week.

Four days before the Nov. 19 kickoff of the 120th annual gridiron competition between Stanford and Cal, faculty, staff and students affiliated with the two universities will participate in a one-day contest to see who can donate the most blood. The Rivals for Life competition, now in its 11th year, is scored just like the football game: Points or pints — the most wins.

The contest winner earns bragging rights — and Stanford has won the drive nine times — but the donated blood is the true goal. Typically, each university has donated more than 200 pints during the contest. Blood donations, in such forms as whole blood, red cells, plasma and platelets, sustain demand that is never-ending, sometimes unpredictable and modulated by strict regulatory controls for temperature and testing. In 2015, almost 6,000 patients at Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health received 73,000 transfusions of blood products.

‘You can’t just give any blood to any person’

“If you look at the total number of blood units you collect and those who receive it, you would think there’s never a shortage,” said Tho Pham, MD, associate medical director of the Stanford Blood Center. “But you can’t just give any blood to any person” because of blood-type incompatibilities.

So the blood center holds continuing blood drives, on campus and throughout the Peninsula and South Bay, to collect its annual goal of 54,000 pints. Less than 10 percent of the general population donates blood, although almost 40 percent is eligible. Some people are permanently excluded from donating blood for medical reasons, including a history of certain blood cancers. Others must wait temporarily after travel to a region where malaria is active or until certain medications, like blood thinners, are no longer active in the blood. The center has a remarkable group of regular donors, said donor recruitment manager Karen Hendryk. More than 50 people have given 100 pints. Several donors are in the 200- to 400-pint category, and three people have given at least 500 pints.

Concepcion Batilo, a lab technician, works at the Stanford Blood Center in Palo Alto.
Norbert von der Groeben

Limited lifetime

Once collected, the blood is handled as carefully as its temperature sensitivity dictates. Blood must be stored at temperatures between 33.8 and 42.8 degrees F — not too far from a home refrigerator’s recommended setting. Even at those cool temperatures, blood has a limited lifetime of 28 to 42 days.

The blood center stays in close contact with Stanford Health Care’s Transfusion Medicine Service, which is the central hub for distributing the donated blood products where they’re needed — most frequently, for surgeries or trauma care. While it’s not possible to predict precise needs, Pham said, “We take a snapshot daily of blood products and try to match that with what we’re collecting. Our responsibility is to be good stewards of our blood supply.”

The Transfusion Medicine Service also strives to ensure the most effective use of blood products, said its director, Hua Shan, MD, a professor of pathology.

In the past few years, SHC has added features to Epic, its electronic medical record system, to promote appropriate use of blood transfusion. “For a leading academic medical center providing comprehensive care to a complex patient population, improving the safety, effectiveness and appropriateness of blood transfusion is a critical component of the program for enhancing the quality of patient care overall at SHC,” she said.  

The latest safety measure that will soon be adopted by the Stanford Blood Center is a technology that can further reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections. “I think people may not appreciate all the efforts and the challenge of delivering a safe bag of blood to the bedside,” Shan said. “There are so many things that need to be done, starting with finding a safe donor.”

The Rivals for Life drive takes place on Nov. 15. Although Stanford leads the series 9-1, last year’s margin of victory was small: only 12 pints. Information about donating blood is available online.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

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